Friday, September 23, 2016

New in iOS 10: Magnifier

Magnifier captured an image of a keyboard and user applied yellow/blue high contrast mode 15x magnified keyboard key using Magnifier

Apple's newly released mobile operating system includes a new accessibility feature called Magnifier. The feature uses the device's built-in camera to enlarge objects placed in front of the camera. This can be helpful for people with visual disabilities who need to read small print. The feature can be enabled by navigating to Settings > General > Accessibility > Magnifier. Once enabled, Magnifier can be accessed by triple clicking the home button.

Magnifier's interface looks very similar to the camera apps interface with a few notable changes. One change is that Magnifier has a freeze frame button rather than a shutter button. Pressing this button freezes the image instead of taking a picture. Magnifier also has a zoom slider that is large and always visible on screen. The zoom slider allows users to zoom in further than is possible with the camera app. Magnifier allows users to zoom in up to 15x compared to 5x with the camera app (iPhone 7 Plus has optical zoom). However, the further a user zooms in the more pixelated the image will become. Magnifier also includes several high contrast options that can be applied before or after a freeze frame is captured.

Magnifier has several advantages over taking a picture with the camera app and then enlarging the image from the camera roll. The first advantage is that freeze frames are captured in full resolution. This means that users can zoom out after the freeze frame is capture. In the camera app, once a picture is captured using zoom there is no way to zoom out again. Another advantage of Magnifier is the high contrast modes that are available. Lastly, opening Magnifier by triple clicking the home button means that it is faster to launch than third party magnification apps.

There is one feature that unfortunately is not included in Magnifier which is the ability to save freeze frames for viewing at a later time. For example, if a person uses Magnifier to read a conference agenda the person may need to take multiple freeze frames of the agenda through out the day because only the most recent freeze frame can be saved.

It also may be difficult for some people to capture crisp images with Magnifier. At 15x zoom, even the slightest shake can make the image blurry. I wish Apple had added a capture timer to Magnifier. This could help eliminate minor shaking that occurs when a user reaches for the freeze frame button.

Overall, I think Magnifier will be greatly appreciated by people with visual disabilities and older people who have trouble reading small print.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New in iOS 10: Software TTY Calling

Software TTY call on iPhone

Apple's updated mobile operating system, iOS 10, includes many new accessibility features. One of these features is Software TTY calling. TTY calling allows people who are deaf and people with hearing disabilities who cannot communicate using voice calling to communicate with people by using voice calling through relay services. The TTY user with a hearing impairment types a message and a relay operator reads that message aloud to the person on the other end of the phone call, who does not have a hearing impairment. When the person on the other end of the phone call speaks the relay operator types what is spoken and the text then appears on the TTY device.
physical TTY machine
Previously, this communication method required a physical TTY machine such as the one pictured above. These machines are large and much less convient to carry around than an iPhone. With iOS 10, Apple is building the functionality of a TTY machine into the iPhone. This eliminates the need for people who rely on TTY calling to have a physical TTY machine.

Software TTY calling on the iPhone works much like an iMessage conversation with a few differences. When software TTY is enabled, the user makes or receives a phone call through the Phone app. Once the user dials the number and presses send the user has the option of placing the call as a voice call, TTY call, or TTY relay call. TTY relay calls will be placed using the relay number specified in settings. If the user chooses one of the TTY options they will be able to access the TTY interface which resembles an iMessage chat. iOS even suggests TTY abbreviations above the keyboard during the conversation such as GA for go ahead and SK for ready to hang up.

With voice calling on the iPhone users can press the home button during a call to access other apps while still talking to person on the other end of the call. I frequently use this feature when placed on hold. While on hold I will check my email or read the news. However, with software TTY calling, users are not notified when new TTY messages are received while using other apps. For example, if  software TTY users wants to check their email while on hold they will not be notified when the next message is received. This means that TTY users might miss incoming messages when multitasking. I would prefer that the feature send notifications when the user is multitasking to alert the user that a new TTY message is received. Much like iMessage sends notifications to users when a new message is received. This would allow TTY users to multitask without fear of missing a message.

The software TTY feature of iOS 10 is a great addition to the iPhone. I think it will be viewed as a major upgrade for TTY users. iOS 10 users who want to enable software TTY should navigate to Settings > General > Accessibility > TTY and then switch on software TTY. This menu also gives users access to other TTY settings such as setting the relay number. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

New Add-On for OneNote Benefits Students with Dyslexia


Microsoft OneNote Icon
Microsoft recently made a new add-on available for its OneNote software which aims to help students with dyslexia. The add-on works within Microsoft's note taking software and is currently available to download as a beta. Once installed, a new tab appears which gives users the option to read content using text-to-speech or dictate using speech-to-text. While both of the features have been available before it is nice to have a free option that can be used directly within OneNote: an application that many schools and parents already have installed as part of the Microsoft Office suite.


The text-to-speech reader mode is called "immersive reading mode" and includes some handy features. When activated the reader fills the entire screen with text from your OneNote notebook. While reading text is highlighted as it is read aloud. Users have the option to change the background color and text size in order to create a more comfortable reading experience. The add-on also includes the ability to highlight nouns, verbs, and adjectives in different colors; a feature that could be helpful for younger students. Microsoft even includes the ability for users to break words up into syllables.

It is exciting to see the fruits of Microsoft's enhanced accessibility initiatives. While the new features are not novel they seem easy to learn. Since the "Learning Tools" are free for OneNote users and easy to learn they may prove to be a great starting point for people new to assistive technology. Microsoft seems to be increasing their focus on accessibility. Recently, the company announced a new Chief Accessibility Officer and a reorganization of accessibility teams. Hopefully, with the new reorganization, "Learning Tools" is just the beginning of Microsoft's accessibility improvements.

The "Learning Tools" add-on available as a free download for Windows. Click here to learn more and download the add-on.